2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Browns looking to climb from AFC North cellar

By TOM WITHERS - AP Sports Writer
    2013-08-27 14:26

CLEVELAND (AP) - For his entire pro career, Joe Thomas has known nothing but change, misery and losing.

Welcome to Cleveland.

Oh, sure, he's made six straight Pro Bowls with the Browns, earning the reliable and durable left tackle a yearly trip to Hawaii. Thomas, though, would trade all those vacations for one visit to the postseason.

``I want to go the playoffs,'' Thomas said earlier this summer. ``It's no fun playing in the NFL when you're going 4-12 every year. It's just not, it's drudgery.''

Those dreary days could be over.

With a first-year head coach who understands Cleveland's passion, more experienced players and a committed owner in Jimmy Haslam, the Browns appear to be on the verge of turning their fortunes. It's been six years since they had a winning record, and 11 since their last playoff appearance, but Thomas believes the Browns are poised to contend.

And when he closes his eyes, Thomas envisions a wintry day in January near Lake Erie when football, the way it once was in Cleveland, is back.

``I think about the day of me running out of the tunnel for a home playoff game, that's my dream,'' he said. ``That's why I show up every day.''

If the Browns are indeed going to improve, they must gain ground in the rugged AFC North. Cleveland is just 16-50 inside one of the league's toughest divisions and only 5-25 in the past five years.

Here's are five things to watch as Cleveland enters the 2013 season:

CHUD'S IN CHARGE: Like so many kids growing up in Ohio, Rob Chudzinski had his heart broken by the Browns. It's his job to try and fix a few. Cleveland's offensive coordinator in 2007 - when the Browns went 10-6 - Chudzinski takes over the team he rooted for as a youngster and one that has chewed up and spit out coaches at an alarming rate.

Chudzinski, he's ``Chud'' to everyone, is Cleveland's sixth coach since 1999. He spent the past two years as Carolina's offensive coordinator. With the Panthers, he directed a record-breaking offense he hopes to replicate in Cleveland. To assist him, the Browns hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive guru Ray Horton, two of the best coordinators on the market with proven track records.

Turner's job is to get the most out of second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has the physical tools and could thrive in an offense designed to his strengths.

RICHARDSON READY TO RUMBLE: His ribs healed and 10 pounds lighter than a year ago, running back Trent Richardson is set for a breakout season - as long as he stays healthy. Richardson rushed for 950 yards as a rookie, when he played more than half the year with two broken ribs.

Richardson lacked the same burst as he had at Alabama, which is part of the reason he slimmed down to 225 pounds. The 23-year-old, who also underwent knee surgery last year, looked terrific in the preseason and credited his improvement to reviewing tapes of how he ran in college and high school. Richardson said it was ``time to get back to the basics.''

In the past, the feature running back in Turner's offense has topped 300 carries, and Richardson is looking forward to doing more ``than running between the tackles'' as he did a year ago.

``I'm looking towards no injury, no broken fingernails, nothing,'' he said. ``I know my whole season is based on being healthy and playing 16 games and hopefully in the playoffs.''

SOUTH IN THE NORTH: Unless they start winning division games, the Browns will stay stuck in the AFC North's basement - their home eight times in 11 years.

Since their return in 1999, the Browns have gone just 16-50 against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati. They've never gone better than 3-3, and that came in their only two winning seasons (2002, 2007) since their expansion rebirth.

The Browns have been competitive inside the division, but losing close games doesn't cut it.

With the Steelers rebuilding, the Ravens losing key contributors from their Super Bowl title team, and the Bengals being, well, the unpredictable Bengals, the Browns could close the gap on their three rivals.

``I think we're making good strides,'' Thomas said. ``But we've got to win games to prove we've made strides.''

WEEDEN'S GROWTH: On a wall inside the Browns' draft room is a list of things the team feels it must do ``On The Path To The Super Bowl.'' Near the top is: ``Have a championship-caliber quarterback.''

Brandon Weeden has this year to show he is one.

Following an up-and-down-and-sideways rookie season, Weeden heads into his second year confident he can lead the Browns back to respectability. He's got the arm, but the Browns just aren't 100 percent certain he has the other intangibles to push them into playoff contention.

Weeden turns 30 in October, so the clock is ticking on both him and the team. The Browns signed veteran Jason Campbell as a backup in case Weeden fails this year and they acquired some extra draft picks in 2014, ammunition in case they have to maneuver to find their future QB.

Weeden won't have his top target for the first two games as wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for failing the NFL's drug policy.

ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK: Cleveland's defense will have moving parts. More precisely, blitzing parts.

Horton has switched the Browns from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, one that puts a premium on pressuring the quarterback. Cleveland restocked its defensive front, signing free agent linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, end Desmond Bryant and drafting Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick.

With the Arizona Cardinals last season, Horton's defense had the NFL's lowest opposing quarterback rating (71.2 percent), ranked second in third-down efficiency (32.9) and interceptions (22) and was third in red-zone defense (44.4).

It's a high-risk, high-reward approach, and if nothing else, it will be fun to watch.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Giovani BernardOct 31 11:12a

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) is unlikely to play in Week 9.

Trent RichardsonOct 31 10:32a

Indianapolis Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring) is not on the injury report for Week 9, and should be able to play Monday, Nov. 3.

Rashad JenningsOct 31 10:12a

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) is aiming to return for the Week 10 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Ronnie HillmanOct 31 09:12a

Updating previous reports, Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder) is expected to have his normal workload in Week 9, despite his limited practice repetitions.

DeAngelo HallOct 31 08:52a

Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall (Achilles') tore his Achilles' again at home and had surgery to repair it Thursday, Oct. 30.

Ron JohnsonOct 30 08:22p

Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (back), DE Michael Bennett (toe), C Stephen Schilling (knee), CB Tharold Simon (knee), CB Byron Maxwell (calf), LB Malcolm Smith (groin), DT Jordan Hill [ More ]

Patrick WillisOct 30 07:52p

San Francisco 49res CB Tramaine Brock (toe) and LB Patrick Willis (toe) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) and CB Chris Culliver (hamstring) practiced in full.

Chris MatthewsOct 30 07:42p

The Seattle Seahawks re-signed WR Chris Matthews and TE Brett Brackett to their practice squad Thursday, Oct. 30.

Scott WellsOct 30 07:42p

St. Louis Rams OG Rodger Saffold (shoulder), CB Janoris Jenkins (knee), DT Aaron Donald (shoulder) and S Cody Davis (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Rodney McLeod [ More ]

Luke JoeckelOct 30 07:22p

Jacksonville Jaguars OT Luke Joeckel (concussion) has recovered nicely from the concussion he suffered in Week 8, and he could play in Week 9 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Joeckel [ More ]

Pierre ThomasOct 30 07:22p

New Orleans Saints RBs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (shoulder) are both inactive in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Oct. 30.

Arian FosterOct 30 07:12p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (knee) was limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Johnathan JosephOct 30 07:12p

Houston Texans LBs Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and Jeff Tarpinian (knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. RB Alfred Blue (ankle), LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), CB Johnathan [ More ]

David HawthorneOct 30 07:12p

The New Orleans Saints have declared LB Austin Johnson, LB David Hawthorne, C Jonathan Goodwin, RB Khiry Robinson, WR Nick Toon, RB Pierre Thomas, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste inactive for Week 9.

Amini SilatoluOct 30 07:12p

The Carolina Panthers have declared OG Amini Silatolu, CB Bene Benwikere, OT Byron Bell, RB Fozzy Whittaker, WR Philly Brown, FS Thomas DeCoud, OG Trai Turner inactive for Week 9.

Justin TuckOct 30 06:42p

Oakland Raiders TE David Ausberry (foot), WR Vincent Brown (hamstring), CB Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), CB Keith McGill (groin), CB Carlos Rogers (knee) and WR Kenbrell Thompkins (non-injury) did not [ More ]

Anthony CollinsOct 30 06:42p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Anthony Collins (foot) and LB Brandon Magee (knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), WR Trindon Holliday (hamstring) and DE Michael Johnson (hand) were limited.

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Minnesota Vikings DT Shariff Floyd (ankle, knee), TE Chase Ford (foot), CB Jabari Price (hamstring), CB Josh Robinson (ankle) and DE Brian Robison (glute) were limited in practice Thursday, [ More ]

Louis VasquezOct 30 06:22p

Denver Broncos S Quinton Carter (hamstring) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Lamin Barrow (concussion), TE Virgil Green (calf), LB Steven Johnson (ankle) and OG Louis Vasquez (illness) [ More ]

Ronnie HillmanOct 30 06:22p

Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder) was limited in practice for the second straight day Thursday, Oct. 30.

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Cleveland Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring) and DE Phil Taylor (knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DE Desmond Bryant (wrist), S Jim Leonhard (ankle), LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), [ More ]

Jordan CameronOct 30 06:12p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Chris JohnsonOct 30 06:12p

New York Jets RB Chris Johnson, who carried the ball just three times for seven yards in Week 8, said he's frustrated with his limited role in the offense. [ More ]

Tom CrabtreeOct 30 06:02p

The New Orleans Saints waived TE Tom Crabtree Thursday, Oct. 30.

Patrick PetersonOct 30 05:42p

Arizona Cardinals S Tony Jefferson (head) and TE Troy Niklas (ankle) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DE Calais Campbell (knee), LB Kenny Demens (knee), S Rashad Johnson [ More ]

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Kansas City Chiefs CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring) and LB Josh Martin (hamstring, knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Eric Berry (ankle) and CB Christopher Owens (knee) were [ More ]

Demario DavisOct 30 05:22p

New York Jets CB Darrin Walls (calf, knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OT Oday Aboushi (shoulder), CB Phillip Adams (groin), LB Antwan Barnes (knee), OG Willie Colon [ More ]

Keenan RobinsonOct 30 05:12p

Washington Redskins S Ryan Clark (ankle, shoulder) and OT Trent Williams (knee) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Ryan Kerrigan (wrist), LB Trent Murphy (knee), CB Tracy [ More ]

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 05:12p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) practiced in full for the second straight day Thursday, Oct. 30.

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 05:02p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) will start against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9, barring any setbacks this week in practice, according to head coach Jay Gruden. [ More ]

Mike PounceyOct 30 05:02p

Miami Dolphins OG Daryn Colledge (illness, back) LB Chris McCain (foot) and TE Dion Sims (toe) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OG Nate Garner (neck), LB Koa Misi [ More ]

Andre BranchOct 30 04:42p

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Will Blackmon (finger), DE Andre Branch (groin), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury), LB Geno Hayes (non-injury) and DT Roy Miller (non-injury) didn't practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB [ More ]

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